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Dems and GOP are really separated by views on freedom and responsibility

The divide between the Democrats and the Republicans is deeper now than at most times in history. Often it seems that the two sides only agree when a compromise is needed for crucial legislation. Even then the two parties will continue to be philosophically far apart. The source of the differences is plain to see.

The differences come from how each party views freedom, responsibility, and the resulting role for government including spending and taxation. The Dems believe that society in total has a responsibility to all Americans. That social responsibility means that the government should ensure that all Americans are entitled to a minimum standard of living, regardless of their economic contribution. The Dems also believe that there should be social justice and social equity.

The Dems believe that the resulting increase in government spending to ensure the social goals are reached, is necessary in a Democracy. To pay for these entitlements, they believe the highest income earners should pay more in taxes, although they phrase this as saying the highest income earners should pay their “fair share.”

They say these social policies increase social responsibility which is good. They also reluctantly admit that government involvement in these social programs will tend to reduce individual freedom, but that’s a fair price to pay for social justice. The GOP has a much different view.

The GOP believes in individual freedom and individual responsibility. They say that government funding, which of course is really taxpayers’ money, should be used only to finance a minimum social safety net. They believe that if an individual is physically and mentally capable of taking care of themselves, the government should stay out of the way.

This view results in greater individual freedom and much greater individual responsibility. The GOP believes that each capable individual should provide for themselves even if that results in greater income inequality.

Historically the GOP view is consistent with enabling the US to grow from the birth of a nation to the largest, most prosperous economy in the world in about 125 years. Other countries were hundreds and in some cases thousands of years older. There are four principles that encouraged this rapid growth.

First, the US encouraged individual freedom. As long as an individual did not infringe on the basic rights of another American, the individual could pretty much do what they pleased. This individual freedom allowed people to explore where their interests would lead.

Second, the US encouraged individual responsibility. All capable individuals took care of themselves often with family providing whatever assistance was needed. But with little or no government assistance.

Third, the government had low rates of taxation. That meant every American knew that whatever they earned, they were going to keep nearly all of it. There was no income tax, no Social Security tax and no Medicare tax, for the entire high growth period. It wasn’t until 1913, that a federal income tax was implemented. It wasn’t until 1935 that Social Security was passed. In 1965, the US passed Medicare.

Fourth, the US had a limited role for government. Other than providing the basic public goods like defense of the country, a legal system and leadership, the government stayed out of the way in economic matters. Since the early 1900s, the US government began to take a more socially responsible role, by adding income protection for the most vulnerable in our society including the elderly.

The problem with these social programs is that once they are implemented, they tend to grow. In fiscal year 2022, the Federal Government collected $4.9 trillion in taxes from Americans.

They spent $6.3 trillion. About 60% of the spending was for Social Security, Medicare and other social programs. This high tax, high spend government today encourages social responsibility and reduces individual freedom.
Until the two political parties can reach a consensus view on these principles, the deep divide will continue.

Most Americans believe that society has some social responsibility. Today government has increased social responsibility to the point where it is has created a huge public debt and is becoming a drag on the overall economy.

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Michael Busler

Michael Busler, Ph.D. is a public policy analyst and a Professor of Finance at Stockton University where he teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in Finance and Economics. He has written Op-ed columns in major newspapers for more than 35 years.

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